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Assessment 'bill of rights' dies in Nassau County Legislature

"The uproar in the community, the concerns, a

"The uproar in the community, the concerns, a great deal of it stems from the fact that they failed to clearly communicate with their own residents," Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said urging Democrats to override Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's "bill of rights" veto in Mineola on Tuesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Legislature failed Tuesday to override County Executive Laura Curran's veto of an "assessment bill of rights" requiring live operators to be on hand to answer assessment department phones, the county assessor to live in Nassau and other measures Democrats opposed as frivolous.

Republicans who control the Nassau County Legislature proposed and passed the six bills on party line votes on Sept. 23. Curran, a Democrat, vetoed the measures on Oct. 2.

The votes of 13 county legislators are needed to overturn a county executive's veto. The 's override failed in a 10-8 party-line vote, with all Democrats voting to uphold the veto. Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) was absent.

Republicans said the bills were necessary to help homeowners confused by the countywide property reassessment.

But Curran and minority Democrats in the legislature criticized the bills as a ploy to exploit taxpayer tensions for political gain. All 19 county legislators are up for reelection on Nov. 5. 

In discussing a proposal to mail tax notices to residents, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said communication by the county assessment department and the Curran administration had been "horrendous."

"The uproar in the community, the concerns, a great deal of it stems from the fact that they failed to clearly communicate with their own residents," Nicolello told lawmakers, urging Democrats to support overriding Curran's veto.

"Today's vote is the dividing line, either you are with the assessor and the administration on this assessment, or you're not, in terms of the way this process has rolled out," Nicolello said.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), who has been critical of the administration's handling of reassessment, told Nicolello that "things aren't as black and white as you just mentioned."

Curran ordered reassessment of county properties after a nearly decadelong freeze of property values.

The freeze and the granting of automatic reductions to many taxpayers who challenged their assessments created a roll with widespread inaccuracies. The effect was that homeowners who did not grieve shouldered a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

"This mess took eight years to happen; we all wanted to see it corrected," DeRiggi-Whitton said.

"To correct a big problem that took eight years to make in one full year has had its share of problems, and I have not been satisfied with a number of things that happened as far of the rollout," DeRiggi-Whitton said. "I, as a critic of the rollout, am still hopeful that we're on our way to a situation where we should be."

She continued, "much of this is a political stunt." She said having operators answer the phone is good policy, but "I don't really think that's what a law is for."

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Republicans, have "chosen now, on the eve of the election … to show they are here for you, Joe Taxpayer … saving you from this horrible reassessment."

Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown) said Republicans developed the "bill of rights" measures "after holding dozens of community meetings with residents."

Curran administration officials don't know the "pain and the confusion that the residents are feeling," Ferretti said.

Christine Geed, a spokeswoman for Curran, said in a statement, “This flurry of useless legislation proposed and passed by the GOP Majority is more of the same — politics first, taxpayers last."

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